VICTORIA - As the number of illicit drug deaths remains on a steady pace, the province’s chief coroner says it would be wise to consider providing clean, medical-grade heroin to drug users who are unsuccessful in treatment.
The number of illicit drug deaths dipped slightly in January, but was still one of the highest months ever, according to the latest figures from the B.C. Coroners Service.
Last month, 116 people died of illicit drug use — an average of more than seven deaths every two days.
That’s down slightly from December, which saw the highest number of deaths in a single month ever, at 142.
January currently ranks third-highest for the number of illicit drug deaths in a month. Nearly 60 per cent of deaths were people aged 30 to 49, and four out of five were men. More than 90 per cent of the deaths happened inside, and non were reported from supervised consumption sites or overdose prevention sites.
Locally, there were eight deaths recorded in Kelowna, five in Kamloops and one in Vernon. There was a total of 18 deaths across the Interior Health Authority region in January.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says in a news release that people who are not drug-dependent should avoid experimentation or any casual use of illicit drugs.
"The continuing high number of deaths shows that the risks remain extreme,” Lapointe says.
She says early indications are that many people who died are drug-dependent and in many cases have not succeeded through a variety of treatment programs.
"For these people, I think we would be wise to seriously consider the carefully considered suggestion made by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall — the possibility of providing clean, medical-grade heroin to that small subset of users for whom nothing else has worked," said Lapointe.
She said anyone using illicit drugs, whether opiates, amphetamines or cocaine, should do so only where medical help is available, or, at the very least, a sober person with access to, and training in, the use of naloxone. Many communities now have implemented overdose prevention sites where help is immediately available in case of overdose, Lapointe says.
— This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. Feb. 17, 2017 to add the number of deaths in Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon.
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